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U.S. Supreme Court: Title VII Protects LGBTQ Employees From Discrimination

Labor & Employment Publications

Today, in Bostock v. Clayton County, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling holding that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and transgender status in the workplace. The 6-3 opinion was written by Justice Neil Gorsuch and was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts as well as the four Justices traditionally viewed as the more “liberal” wing of the Court. The case does not create a major change for employers in Illinois, where the highest federal appellate court and Illinois law already prohibited discrimination based on gay or transgender status in employment. Today’s ruling makes the prohibition on discrimination based on gay and transgender status in employment the “law of the land” throughout the United States, however, and may have important impacts the interpretation of other federal laws, including those involving education and healthcare.   

As we discussed in a prior alert on the cases, the Court’s decision today consolidated three cases addressing whether Title VII’s prohibition on discrimination based on “sex” is broad enough to encompass sexual orientation, transgender status, and gender identity. Previously, lower courts were split on whether Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination “on the basis of sex” prohibits discrimination against individuals on the basis of their status as gay or transgender. In the opinion, the Court settled the question definitively, stating: “An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.” Based on the Court’s ruling, any disparate treatment or harassment of an individual based on sexual orientation or transgender status in the workplace is prohibited by Title VII.

The Court’s ruling is likely to have a wide-ranging impact on the interpretation of other federal laws with respect to LGBTQ individuals. For example, as we discussed on our blog in October, the Court’s ruling will have ripple effects on the interpretation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in educational programs and activities that receive federal funds. It remains to be seen what, if any, impact the decision will have on a new regulation the Trump administration finalized Friday that removed protections for transgender patients against discrimination by doctors, hospitals and health insurance companies.

For more information about the Court’s decision and impacts on your organization or institution, contact the authors of this post or any other Franczek attorney.